Ensemble Studios had expended just about a 10 years mastering the genuine-time technique genre when it became a sufferer of its own achievements. Its 1997 debut, Age of Empires, experienced been an immediate strike and spawned several beloved sequels and expansions that cemented the studio’s glowing track record. Imitators—some novel, some slavish—quickly appeared in their droves, and by the mid-2000s, parent firm Microsoft predicted practically nothing of the studio other than to build on its legacy with an additional activity in the same vein.
The only problem: Ensemble was not considerably interested. “We had been hoping for so very long to do nearly anything but an RTS video game,” claims Dave Pottinger, a veteran of the studio who labored there across its lifespan. “If we ended up heading to do another a single, anything had to change.” An idea was floated: adhere to the RTS format on which the group had built its popularity, but go away PCs at the rear of to make a match for consoles. Ensemble would have a little something new to chew on, and Microsoft would be still left pleased. Or so they hoped.
“Everyone there believed it was a catastrophically horrible strategy,” suggests Pottinger. “We had under no circumstances made a console video game, a great deal a lot less a console RTS, and they did not truly exist again then.” With Ensemble getting by now used a pair of years creating an first IP and prototyping concepts, Microsoft gave the studio an ultimatum: rework the activity into a tie-in for the greatest Xbox franchise of the working day, or scrap the total detail. “If they had been gonna get a chance on a console RTS, it had to be tied to Halo,” says Pottinger. “That was the only way they considered it would offer.”
And promote it did. When Halo Wars strike shelves in 2009, it marketed 1 million copies in below a month. It was the type of professional good results any developer would be delighted with, mostly driven, Pottinger admits, by the Halo model.
But were those Microsoft executives to search at Ensemble’s authentic console RTS right now, they could be more approving. In a much cry from its early several years, console strategy gaming is the healthiest it’s ever been. Knotty grand-technique titles this sort of as Crusader Kings III sit along with the much more approachable likes of Minecraft Legends, action-concentrated video games like Aliens: Darkish Descent, the additional common real-time battlefields of Enterprise of Heroes 3, and management simulators like Two Place Campus. Just this yr, Ensemble’s Personal computer classic Age of Empires 2 was ported to Xbox platforms with a bespoke gamepad regulate plan, and Age of Empires 4 adopted match only very last thirty day period.
It speaks, in portion, to the standard homogenization of the medium. “The line between consoles and Laptop gaming is heading absent,” states Lewis Ward, gaming investigate director at marketplace exploration business IDC. He notes that seven of the 10 top rated-grossing game titles on Steam final 12 months are also out there on consoles, and publishers them selves are more and more blurring platform distinctions. Sony has ported quite a few of its largest PlayStation exclusives to Computer in the earlier couple several years, like classic console mascots like Ratchet & Clank and Sackboy. And the start of the Steam Deck has authorized players to access the world’s most important Personal computer storefront through a console-type machine.
In the past, hardware disparities have been a important headache for multiplatform developers, as significant chunks of a sport would have to be tweaked to guidance the bespoke procedures and methods of every console. “Nowadays the CPUs and other hardware are truly astonishingly very similar in between them all,” claims Ben Hymers, complex director on Two Level Campus. “Some platforms are more potent than some others, but the precise main architecture of things is about the very same.”